UCSD Health’s Headache Center Aims to Help Patients ‘Every Step of the Way’

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Headaches are something that millions of people in the United States experience, but the specialists at UC San Diego’s Headache and Traumatic Brain Injury Center understand that each one is unique and may require different treatment.

Dr. Nina Riggins, a neurologist and director of the center, said the Sorrento Valley facility uses drugs, medical devices and procedures to treat different types of headaches and is involved in educational and research efforts.

“We use classical treatments and world-class treatments that are targeted therapies for headaches … that have fewer side effects,” she said. “We treat migraines, cluster headaches, post-traumatic headaches and all types of headaches.”

At the heart of any treatment is collaboration with the patient, Riggins said.

“From day one, we have patients fill out a headache diary to find out what the person is doing that triggers their headache,” she said. “We’re determining whether exercise programs can be helpful … and what to eat and what not to eat.” It used to be thought that chocolate could trigger migraines, but studies have shown that this is not the case. But there are foods that cause headaches, such as hot dogs and other processed meats.

Given that changes are often required in areas of a person’s life, the center collaborates with other physicians at UCSD, such as sleep specialists, nutritionists and integrative medicine practitioners.

If additional care is needed, the center offers medication and/or use of medical devices in the clinic or at home.

“We have transmagnetic stimulation devices for headaches that can be used at home,” Riggins said. “We are using single-pulse TMS to treat migraine attacks, which can be used in acute attacks and as a preventive therapy.”

“It’s very important to have something that can help rewire the brain to a better state. We are very proud that UCSD has this opportunity for patients.”

— Dr. Nina Riggins

The center also uses four other FDA-approved devices, one of which is the Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) device, a treatment option for migraine attacks and cluster headaches.

Each clinic room is equipped with optional green light, which has been shown to soothe light sensitivity associated with headaches.

Procedures at the clinic include Botox for chronic migraine attacks, trigger point injections and needle-free sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) block, which delivers targeted therapy through the nose.

“It’s important to have different modalities,” Riggins said.

The center has specialists ready to treat women who have headaches related to childbirth and breastfeeding, and to help veterans who have headaches related to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

“We’re welcoming them and building a team … that works for them,” Riggins said. “It’s very important to have something that can help rewire the brain to a better state. We are very proud that UCSD has this opportunity for patients.”

“I want people to know we’re here for them … so they don’t think they’re alone,” Riggins added. “Migraine as a headache can be very lonely for a person. We recognize this and have a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team in place to support our patients every step of the way.”

Learn more at health.ucsd.edu.

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